Yes that’s me in the middle holding up my freshly plucked duck.
See that smile? I’m quite proud of myself.
On that day I killed my dinner. It’s hard to say that without sounding sadistic especially paired with that huge smile sprawled across my face.
It was Duckfest that led me to my first experience with slaughtering. A weekend where an intimate group gathered on a small island in the San Juans with a common passion for food, desire for duck and insatiable hunt for knowledge. In this weekend we followed our food from the ground on which it lived to the table where it was served.
The group was led by Neal Foley (@podchef) and Kate Hill (@katedecamont). Kate runs a culinary retreat on her farm in Gascony in the south of France. Neal provided the home, the baked goods and the ducks. Kate brought with her a fast knowledge of cooking with duck and the recipe for Cassoulet – a peasant dish consisting of white beans and several different types of meat including duck confit. Both of our hosts provided a passionate knowledge that continues to inspire me now, almost a year later.
We started off our days with warm baked goods laden with fresh jersey cream so thick it required the use of an ice cream scoop to remove it from the jar. The milk we added to our freshly roasted coffee was gently persuaded from the cow just hours before.
On the morning of the slaughter we ate cinnamon rolls. A nervous anxiousness wafted through the room mingling with the smell of sweet cinnamon. Our minds raced with varied expectations.
“It’s a necessity of life to kill and eat. Something has to die for us to eat.” Kate told us as we watched nervously. The process of taking life to food was quick and inherently natural. “It should be slightly dis-concerning when you kill something.” Kate continued. And it was.
Great care was taken to ensure that the ducks stayed calm as calm animal dies quicker.
Leading up to this moment I had no idea I would eagerly step up and volunteer myself to kill a duck. But as I observed the entire process I felt a sense of duty to participate. Not duty imparted on my fellow Duckfest attendees or my gracious hosts but duty put on myself as one who lives so passionately for food.
With one quick swoop of an impeccably sharp boning knife and a dip in a hot bath to help with the plucking of the feathers – we had food.
The rest of our time at Duckfest was used to honor the life of these ducks by making the most delectable pates, rilettes and confit. We used every part of these birds minus the feathers. Our group gathered around a large newspaper covered table taking great care picking every last bit of meat off of their tiny ribs.
Nothing was wasted.
Seeing the entire process – from life to dinner – and all the steps in between made each bite memorable.
The meal that brought us to this place was the Cassoulet. We had spent days building its components. We watched aromatics perfume the cooking liquid that bathed the beans and gave them their perfect velvet texture. Duck parts gently simmered in its own fat for the confit. And before we had even got to the island Neal had spent months preparing the ducks (watch his video series on what it takes to raise a duck) and making the homemade rind and pork sausages for the Cassoulet.
Our last night on the island we feasted on this Cassoulet. We joyously recounted all that this weekend gave us and what we will take with us from the experience. At the end of the meal, with smiles, tapping feet and clapping hands we listened to a few of our fellow diners play melodiously play the flute and mandoline as the smell of duck fat still lingered. We were full of food and joy.
In this one weekend I ate incredible food, met like-minded food lovers, learned from a seasoned farmer and a talented cook, and most important for me was walking away with a heightened appreciation for every single piece of real food that I eat and prepare. It’s a gift not to be taken lightly.
If you are interested in attending Duckfest your time has come.
“If you want to learn to grow, kill, cook and eat your food, find a way to marry farm and table, learn the Farmways as practiced by a single passionate farmer and a dedicated cook practicing the Frenchways, or just eat some outstanding good food, then come ‘walk the walk’ with us, the Duckfest Walk at Claddagh Farm on Dec 3-5.”
I highly encourage you to sign up.
Photos courtesy of GabrielBoone.com